My family wondered why I continued to attend “light” hearings, week after week. My interest was based on a belief that there was a dark side to the objections. If you were patient and listened long and hard enough, it eventually surfaced, in every one of the hearings. It was always subtle, as racism in Oak Park would necessitate, but it was always there.

Early hearings were generally informative, but as each of the residents’ stated concerns were mollified, it finally came down to fear that night games would bring in “kids from Chicago.” Residents actually stalked high school athletes, taking pictures of kids practicing, in an effort to prove how delinquent they were. One ridiculous picture was used to falsely claim a football player was flashing gang signs.

The residents realized they had a public relations problem and the next set of hearings looked much different. Previously unseen African-American residents were now highly visible, seemingly to negate any claims of racist motives for opposition to the high school request for lights.

During the latest round of hearings, students and parents were no longer in the audience, worn down by the endless nonsense. But I kept going and listening, and then there it was. More than one resident suggested that the achievement gap might be narrowed if the African-American athletes spent their time studying rather than playing football. Could someone explain the relevance of the achievement gap in relation to the impact of lights on a neighborhood?

As things start to make little sense and exaggerations and distortions are offered as “evidence,” I begin looking for hidden agendas. We are talking about three football games a year, which is two more nights than the 4th of July convergence on that neighborhood. Lights, noise and traffic galore, but I don’t recall hearing neighbors complain about the impact on their families.

Residents claim it is much more than the three nights because the field will be used for practice and the lights will remain on until 8 p.m. Soccer games might end at 9 p.m. The problem with these arguments is that almost everyone agrees that advanced light technology renders the impact to the surrounding area negligible. The major complaints about noise and parking are not an issue for all the other uses.

Those commissioners, who voted against the high school request, summarily dismissed the safety concerns related to students having to be bused every day to practice at Thatcher Woods, etc. They were not moved by the superintendent’s worry about athletes practicing off campus, with no athletic trainer available. When Plan Commissioner Gail Moran expressed concern for the students at the high school, she was rudely heckled by the “neighborly” residents.

An African-American student once described her experience in a biology class at Evanston High School. Students were polite and friendly, but during group lab work, whenever she offered an answer, she was ignored. The same answer, later provided by a white classmate, would be readily accepted. She was a particularly bright, probably gifted young lady. Were I the parent of an African-American child, I would rather have him or her chased home from school and called names than be ignored, or considered intellectually inferior. There are a number of reasons for the achievement gap, but none of them have to do with football.

Patty Marino is a River Forest resident and former 20-year resident of Oak Park.

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